Storm brews over weather service

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Norway’s popular online weather service, yr.no, received an uncertain forecast from the Minister of Culture this week. Thorhild Widvey said she’ll investigate whether it’s appropriate for Norway’s public broadcaster NRK to operate the site, amid claims it creates an unfair monopoly over weather services.

Yr.no provides weather forecasting for 900,000 places in Norway and more than nine million worldwide, thanks to a weather data sharing agreement. Culture Minister Thorhild Widvey said she'll investigate if it's appropriate for state broadcaster NRK to run the site, stifling competition. PHOTO: yr.no

Yr.no provides weather forecasting for 900,000 places in Norway and more than nine million worldwide, thanks to a weather data sharing agreement. Culture Minister Thorhild Widvey said she’ll investigate if it’s appropriate for state broadcaster NRK to run the site, stifling competition. PHOTO: yr.no

Yr.no is owned by the Meteorological Institute (Meteorologisk institutt, MET) which provides the weather information, and NRK, which provides the technology. It was established in 2007 and quickly became not only Norway’s biggest online weather service but also a popular site internationally, with 4.6 million unique users weekly.

Newspaper Aftenposten reported that on a visit to the BBC in London, Conservative (Høyre) government minister Widvey said she’d look into whether the taxpayer-funded broadcaster should be providing weather services. TV2’s head of communications, Rune Indrøy, said it’s wrong for NRK to spend the television license revenue it receives on yr.noclosing the market to other providers.

“There are no private players who can compete on these terms with a state-supported service from NRK,” said Indrøy. “When NRK goes heavily in, as the have done with yr.no, they completely destroy the market. That weakens media diversity and gives poor choice for users.”

Free service, no ads
NRK’s broadcasting chief Thor Gjermund Eriksen said he’s amazed by Widvey’s statements and call for a parliamentary white paper, given the broad political support for establishing the service seven years ago. “Yr was quickly accepted as an important part of the public broadcaster’s service, and forecasting has been our mission since the dawn,” he told Aftenposten. “I must decide as editor in chief how we perform that mission.”

The contract between NRK and MET says if NRK pulls out, the site must lie dormant for a year. MET would have to rebuild the service from scratch, said communications head Kristin Goa. “If we begin a new activity, the question is whether that’s an effective use of tax money to let meteorologists run large web and mobile services,” she said. “Without NRK we can deliver the same service. And if we build up a weather service with a commercial player, it must be a free website without advertising.”

Goa said that’s due to European data sharing agreements between national weather institutes, which dictates the information must be used in a non-commercial way. “We will invite Thorhild Widvey to visit, so she can understand a little more about what it concerns,” she said. “We will clarify that the method we use is for the common good of society, and its public education.”

More important competition debates
Torgeir Waterhouse is the internet and new media director at IKT Norge, an information and communication technology interest group. He told Aftenposten the yr.no debate concerns both NRK’s role as a media player, and the job NRK does to share MET weather data in a free and accessible way.

“I believe yr.no does the job of spreading weather data in a good way,” Waterhouse said. “In that respect I don’t think we would benefit by removing NRK’s service, assuming it continues as a pure weather data service as it does today. When it comes to the competition debate, there are other areas of NRK’s business which are more important than yr.no. For example, NRKs competition with other online newspapers or licenses.”

newsinenglish.no/Emily Woodgate